When were Fender's bad years?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by khayes1995, Feb 8, 2001.

  1. khayes1995


    Jan 25, 2001
    I'm interested in buying a '73 P bass from eBay, but a friend of mine says Fender went through a few bad years in the 70's when it was owned by CBS (?!) and quality suffered. Is this true or urban legend stuff? Seeing the price of Fenders from that era, it seems people must be happy with them. Any advice?
  2. RAM


    May 10, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    Well, this is sure to start some flaming, but IMO, Fender hasn't gone through any good years, except for some 1966 and earlier (CBS took over in 1965, but Leo continued to consult and build for the company through 1966). Some of the Fender basses that have come out in 2000 and after are not bad, since the subtle upgrades they made are huge!

    But, as for other Fenders, they're very individual. Some people like them, and within each year, there are good ones and bad ones. I think that with CBS, the biggest problem was lack of consistency. You'll find people on this board (like Brad Johnson, who seems to only turn things into gold) that have found great deals on early 1970's Fenders. But, for the most part, they're not really "vintage", but sellers are trying to inflate the value of these basses.

    Are some of these basses good? Well, I wouldn't spend the money on one, ESPECIALLY sight unseen and unplayed! But, you never know...it may be a real gem-in-the-rough:oops:
  3. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    I'm not an expert, just an owner of a pre-CBS and former owner of other Fenders for more years than I care to count. To answer your question with some definition, (but RAM's reply is "the grain of salt" you should take with it) is-

    1965; wasn't the immediate date when things went south for the Fender name. Jan., `85 is only the "official" purchase date. Things were going sour before that in mid-`64. But by the end of `65 the look and feel had changed. A couple of examples; the famous "custom contour", the sculpted body was gone. Indian rosewood replaced Brazilian. Polyurethane finishes replaced nitrocellulose.

    1971; things really went down the toilet. The goal was not "good", it was, "how many?" It was so bad they started using the notorious 3-bolt neck.

    1985- Schultz (William?), employees and stockholders bought the company. However, and this is where it gets fuzzy for me, the purchase was only for the name, patents, and designs, not machinery and hardware. So, at first, this group farmed out the work to foreign factories. However, they were dedicated to bring back the name by investing in employees and establishing plants under direct control in the US. I think this is the model for why so many instruments made by various companies in Korean factories and elsewhere get knocked.

    Hope that helps give a somewhat clear picture. But, as RAM implies, those are just dates. The real truth is what is in your hands.
  4. RAM


    May 10, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    I'm not sure what you intended by this statement...can you explain what you meant?
  5. In my experience, Fenders of all years vary massively from instrument to instrument.

    One of my biggest peeves is dead spots, and many, many Fenders have 'em -- even up to & including some of the graphite-reinforced Roscoe Becks I've tried.

    On the other hand, despite the whole "CBS" thing, Geddy Lee has had a modicum of success with his '72 Jazz. . .

    I don't think anything feels as great to me as a _good_ Fender.
  6. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    "...there are good ones and bad ones...But you never know...."

    As in, don't judge a Fender by its serial #. Mass produced instruments always seem to have freaks, good and bad.
  7. I bought a Fender P-bass in the Summer of 1976 brand new.
    I was a wide eyed kid then, and, having a real Fender bass
    was equal to being asked to hand towels to the girls of my
    High School's cheerleading team as they left the shower.
    As far as the bass is concerned, it stunk! It was blonde
    with a fretted maple neck(not a fingerboard) it looked
    great, but, all it had was midrange. No lows. Mutted highs.
    I could never figure out why it sounded so bad; a friend of
    mine had a Pre-CBS P-Bass(1964) that he bought in 1971.
    His bass sounded so unbelievably good, full, mellow, balanced and punchy, all at once. Mine just had midrange.
    I even replaced the pickups with DiMarzios, which made a
    very slight improvement, but, it was the instrument itself
    that sounded crappy even when it wasn't plugged in. Like
    most of the other guys said, you have to judge each bass
    by itself, but, I think most people agree, the 70s were
    one of Fender's lowest points. I think they're making them
    better now because they're scared. Now, The Epiphone Jack
    Casady Bass, that's a real beauty...(check out my review at
    our favorite bass site, here!)

    That's one man's opinion, not his onion.

    Mike J.
  8. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Boom Bass Cabinets, DR strings
    No flames here:)
    IMO the "bad" years were probably when they strayed from the traditional basses (P and J) during the 80's/90's.

    I wouldn't buy an older Fender sight unseen either, I'm not collecting them so there's no need. I've seen some nice, well cared for 70's basses and of course some seriously used and abused ones from every era.

    Back in 78 you couldn't sell me a Fender. I don't remember if I attributed that to spotty quality but I know the real reason... it was too obvious. Give me a Veillette -Citron, a Smith, an Alembic, an Ibanez...anything but a Fender. Was that shunning deserved? Probably not, I didn't bother to look at many back then.

    Now I have a 78 Jazz that I found cheap in perfect condition. Did it sound this good in 78? I have no idea. I wouldn't hesitate to buy any Fender I found that truly worked for me. I really like my 97 MIA Jazz Deluxe 5's, even though others don't like the preamps, pickups, etc. ... that's fine, I do. If I didn't have newer Fender 5's I would consider a MIM or US Jazz sight unseen...maybe I've been lucky but I haven't seen a truly bad one yet.

  9. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member Administrator

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    i'm with RAM on this one. then again, i stopped playing 4 strings in '93, so what do i know? :D

    ultimately, i wouldn't buy one from back then without trying it first.
  10. Marcus Miller plays a '77! But, the above posts are all on it. Fender was very inconsistent, all the way through. I have seen two absolutely identical '61 Jazz basses, even quite close in the serial numbers, and one was considerably better than the other. Not in feel, but in sound. Why should this be? Who knows? I dont.
  11. Fender makes basses?
    hmm i thought they just made the strat and the telecaster
  12. "It was so bad they started using the notorious 3-bolt neck. "

    This was intended to be an improvement rather than an economy measure. It actually cost more than the 4 bolt. It may not have actually worked, but that was because as has been mentioned the marketers were running things, not the designers. The 3 bolt was not designed for solids.

    I have seen rubbish from the Pre-CBS period and great early 70s stuff. But on the whole the bad basses I have seen were from 72-85. Since then things have improved continuously. Since 1995, Fender stuff has really improved with probably the most consistent production runs they have ever made. And I think the Corona made basses are simply superb.

    A batch of Corona made strats has just arrived in Ankara, and the are, quite simply, the best production strats I have ever seen.

    I think Fender MIA stuff is new generally excellent.

    But then I am a Fender player, so I would, wouldn't I?
  13. DaveB


    Mar 29, 2000
    Toronto Ontario
    Wow...touchy subject! Here's my 2 cents worth.I think there is as much legend as there is fact with Fender's "70's problems". I've owned/played both good and bad '70's basses and guitars and both good and bad pre-CBS '60's as well. I think that there was a lot more consistency in the pre-CBS days though.And here's why.

    During the '70's and '80's the Japanese, in basses like everything else,were putting out competitive quality product at lower prices. Much of this market share was at Fender's expense (since they were the market leader). How much of it was bad Fender product versus good Japanese manufacturing and marketing? Who knows - I would suggest a little of both.By the way the same thing happened to the U.S. automotive business. Where do you think Toyata, Nissan etc. got their market share? Remember Harley Davidson versus Yamaha, Kawasaki etc.? Same story. When it came to production line basses Fender (and Gibson) like other American industries got caught in an apathetic quality mode vis-a-vis the Japanese. The key here is production line. Fender has always (Custom Shop aside) been a production assembly line business and competes essentially with other production line businesses.And consistency is the toughest thing for a production line to achieve. The bigger the volume the bigger the consistency problem.

    And if you want to compare to non-production line basses that are at a higher price point well that's just dumb.

    Funny how, in the end, virtually EVERY bass maker compares themselves to the Fender Jazz and Precision. Take a look at a Sadowsky,Lakland, G&L etc. Even the makers that at least look different ie. Spector,Yamaha, Warwick etc. still refer to their pickups as J and P style. I wonder why that is?

    Well.... so what, you say! I guess the moral of the story is that when you are in the market for anything you usually consider the market leader.Fender is still the market leader.I have a '75 P that I will never sell.It is a great example of a Fender Precision...period with no qualification.As recently as three weeks ago I passed on a new Fender P at a good price because THAT ONE was not right for me.On the other hand I have played lots of new P's that WERE right. Exactly the same as it was in the '70's. There are lots of RIGHT Fender basses ...be they 60's, '70's or 2001's. You have to play a bunch just find yours...just like the other makers. By the way, I'm old enough to have been playing then and now...so I can speak from experience rather than legend.
  14. air_leech


    Sep 1, 2000

    I never owned a Fender and I'm surely not planning to own one in the forseeable future.

    what I wanted to say is that nearly every post regarding Fender quality has a sentance in it that goes like that: "mine sucked but Geddy/Marcus/Jaco/--your favorite fender playing artist-- got great sounds out of them".

    I won't deny it, everytime I listen to a good bassist the first question that comes to my mind is "what bass is this guy using?" even though I personnaly don't belive that if Geddy used a Fender Jazz than it should work for me.
    Fender and other corporates (Ib---z) are actually building their succes on that and that is the problem with the popular music today (50's-today) we see the musicians as guitar heroes, I can't recall a kid on my block during the 80's who didn't want to be like Slash (or whoever) and thats what sucks, if people looked at, say, Eddie Van-Halen as a musician who is using the guitar as his musical vehicle rather than a guitar idol than maybe none of us ever knew about the Kramer guitar company (the ultimate symbol for a raise and fall of a corporation a' la' Fender).
    I can't recall anything like the Fender craze hype in the world of Jazz or Classical music or even Electronic music.

    I'm not saying I wont get Fender just because they are corporated scum, I say I won't get them because they don't work for me spceificaly even though some of my favourite artists use them.

  15. NJXT


    Jan 9, 2001
    Lyon, FRANCE
    I'm nearly ashamed to say that but I've just tried two or three Jazz Basses in my life and did'nt like'em at all : comfort, feeling, neck, sound ... everything seemed "bad" to me.
    But every time I can drop my hands on one, I try it again, telling myself "that's not possible ! So many great players had one, why don't you like it !"
  16. RAM


    May 10, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    Agreed...mass produced instruments, or mass produced ANYTHING, has good and bad. That's why production lines have quality control! But, in my experience, the quality control on the Fender lines of basses was not nearly as consistent as I'd have liked if I were to consider buying a Fender! Even the new ones (the new American Series) has more issues than I'd like.

    Just the other day, I picked up and played 4 different Fenders, all current models, all US made. The only one that I liked was a '62 reissue. In fact, that's one of the few Fenders I've EVER come across that I actually would consider buying!

    But, I also played two 2000 Jazz basses: one that felt weak and sounded horrible, and the other was okay! And, the p-bass I played sounded was no better.

    If you want to discuss quality control with Fenders, though, I still stand firm in that I've personally seen much less consistency with Fenders than other manufacturers basses, particularly the older models (70's and 80's).

    So, IMO, that's a bit too freakish for me. There's other stuff I'll spend my money on.
  17. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    air_leech- Excellent input! One of the things I try to consider - does this artist have a sound tech, a la Will Lee for example, a "Bass Butler" ?

    Wouldn't it be grand?!?! "Oh Jeeves, be a good man and see that my the relief on my Vigier Excess is set the way you know I like it. And, make sure my F Alain Caron is properly intonated. I may want to pick that up today, too."
  18. Tuomas


    Mar 14, 2000
    Helsinki, Finland
    I'd say that there is only one way to buy fender basses: try them. I've tried dozens of +20 year fenders and some of them have been horrible, others truly great. My search ended when I found the 1978 Jazz I have now that actually has the notorious 3 bolt system (which btw. has worked perfectly) and it's pretty much the sweetest sounding and playing bass I've ever played. But I wouldn't buy anything without trying it out.
  19. Now this thread was an education. I never knew that so many
    people disliked Fender so much. I have a Mexi fretless Jazz
    now, and I think it's great. I thought I was the only one that had a bad experience with them. Most other Fenders I've checked out in stores or through friends were usaually
    good to excellent. Likewise with my 1979 Ibanez. Maybe I
    bought it at the right time, but, if any of you could check
    it out, you'd probably agree that it's a great axe. I guess
    guitars are like women: Some of them are so nice to look at,
    but, when you get them home...

    Mike J.
  20. air_leech


    Sep 1, 2000

    hey Mike

    I don't hate Fender, I hate the fact they are being bought for reasons like: "Hendrix played one", to me a Fender is an outdated design which can be surpassed by many basses in the same price range.
    but if you like their specific sound and feel then you should buy one.

    buy your Fender because thats the best bass FOR you to express your music through and not because your idols/friends/every guy in the 'hood plays one.

    and regarding the quality control issue, Tuomas did wisely, try them all and buy the one you like the most, don't buy the first one you see just to have a Fender, after all this bass you could keep your whole life so choose wisely if you will still want to play it and feel comfortable with it half a year from now.